Ed. Dept. Fines D.C. Schools on Test Choice

By John Gehring — January 11, 2005 1 min read

The District of Columbia school system has accepted a fine from the U.S. Department of Education for failing to give exams tied to specific district academic standards.

Instead, the 64,000-student system will again this year give students a norm-referenced achievement test, measuring students’ performance against their peers’, before switching to an exam tied to school district standards next year.

The $120,000 penalty from the Education Department is being imposed because the district in the nation’s capital did not fulfill an agreement that then-Superintendent Paul L. Vance signed with the department in 2002. Under that agreement, the district was required to use a criterion-referenced test—meaning one aligned with its own academic standards—as it, like the states, must do under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“We have no discretion on this,” said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the Education Department. “We’re required to withhold 25 percent of the administrative part of Title I for every year they don’t comply.

“It’s important to note that this only affects the administrative funds,” she continued. “We’re not taking money away from students.”

Ms. Aspey added that the penalty against the District of Columbia for using a test that doesn’t measure specific standards is not the first such action. In 2003, the department withheld administrative funds from the state of Georgia for the same reason.

Meria Carstarphen, the District of Columbia schools’ chief accountability officer, said the district would keep the norm-referenced Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition for this year, even though district officials began working on fulfilling their 2002 agreement with the Education Department by buying an information-management system and writing test questions for a new exam that would comply with federal regulations.

But Ms. Carstarphen said that after the current superintendent, Clifford B. Janey, was hired in August, he and the school board decided that the academic standards and accountability exams the district had been working on were not adequate.

The school district has instead adopted academic-content standards based on those used in Massachusetts, which have received national praise as being clear and rigorous. The new test, based on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, will be given in 2006.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2005 edition of Education Week as Ed. Dept. Fines D.C. Schools on Test Choice